dkSez : : : : : : Don Kahle's blog

Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

Why do people say 'after dark' when what they mean is 'during dark'? After dark would be when it's light again, right? * There are 10 types of people in this world -- those who read binary, and those who don't. * I'm rethinking the whole brown rice thing. What if it's just more white liberal self-hatred? Whole wheat, honey, unbleached flour. All better. Sez who? * Eugene should be HQ for White People for Diversity. We'll fight for diversity to be included in books, which is where we know to look for it. * Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, but give a man a pillow, and he'll dream of steak. * What can you say about a state that puts the town of North Bend 225 miles southwest of Bend? We rely on visitors for entertainment.

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Round Numbers Make Bad Public Policy

November 27th, 2015 · No Comments

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Liberal politicians locally and across the country are racing to hike their minimum wage to $15. Oregon requires all employers to pay the second highest minimum wage in the country, but the same law prohibits any Oregon county or city from setting its own minimum wage above the state’s current $9.25.

Determined to join the Fight for 15 movement, Eugene City Council is considering a $15 minimum for all its own employees and for the employees of any vendor doing business with the city. A state initiative is getting organized to hike Oregon’s minimum to $15.

Fifteen is not the correct number and I’ll tell you why.

Round numbers convey a casual attitude about money that is unbecoming when mixed with police powers. If you’re opening a classy restaurant, you can tell your customers that you don’t care about pennies by pricing your entrees at whole-dollar amounts.

The biggest difference between “$20” and “$19.99” is not the penny — it’s the attitude. Wal-Mart won price-conscious shoppers’ allegiance by breaking from retailers’ 99-cent convention and using every digit. A price like $8.74 connotes that they are saving every penny they can on their customers’ behalf — $9.00 does the opposite.

Fifteen-zero-zero succeeds as a slogan for the same reason it fails as public policy. It’s too simple. Give me a number that uses all available digits if you want me to believe you paid attention to details.

Besides, the $15 figure came from our maximum-minimum competitors to the north. After an attempt to unionize airline support vendors was foiled at Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport, activists put the $15 minimum on the ballot in the airport’s host city. It was easy to remember, the initiative passed, and the number stuck.

I don’t know about you, but it goads me that Washington state’s minimum wage is always a few cents higher than ours in Oregon. Every year, we of the Upper Left Edge offer Americans the highest of lowest wages, but we’ve been second every year since 2001.

That’s not how it was supposed to be. After all, we got there first.

In 1996, Oregon voters passed Measure 36, raising our minimum wage (over three years) to $6.50. When our northern neighbors saw that civilization did not collapse beneath them, Washington followed our (ahem) lead in 1998 with Initiative 688, which increased their minimum wage to $6.50 over two years, but also added a cost-of-living adjustment based on the federal Consumer Price Index.

Not to be outdone, Oregon followed in 2002 with another ballot initiative, Measure 25, which decreed another statewide increase — this time to $6.90 and yes, this new minimum was indexed to the Consumer Price Index for every year after 2003.

But by then it was too late. Our $6.90 in 2003 was bettered by Washington’s inflation-adjusted $7.01. In 2015, Washington pays a minimum of $9.47, compared to our paltry minimum of $9.25. That gap will only widen with time, so something must be done if we want our state’s economic ladder to reclaim the nation’s highest lowest rung.

Oregon can show the nation a better way, and Eugene City Council can nudge Salem legislators in the right direction by using a number that has been shaping public policy for decades. We want every member of our full-time workforce to be not-poor, so we should simply use the numbers that are already available.

The United States Census Bureau calculates the federal poverty level every September for the next calendar year. Its figures are used for federal budgets, block grants, and a host of other initiatives, both public and private. It calculates that an American family of four living for a year on $24,250 or less is officially poor. As an hourly wage, that comes to $11.66.

We want our minimum to be above any line labeled as poverty, so let’s add 20 percent. Consider it like a fair restaurant tip. Eugene, and then Oregon, can declare the current non-poor minimum hourly wage to be $13.99. That’s not a bumper sticker number. It’s a “we did our homework” number.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Solving ISIS

November 24th, 2015 · 2 Comments

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What’re we gonna do about ISIS? The question has elbowed its way into casual conversations at an inopportune time. Just as the year-end party circuit is getting underway, we can’t stop ourselves from talking about a decidedly uncheery topic.

For those moments when the line at the punchbowl is too long to leave a conversation already underway, I offer you three new angles on an already tiresome topic, using history, demography, and marketing. Happy holidays!

History Rhymes

Mark Twain said once that history does not repeat itself, but it rhymes. Christianity has been through straits similar to what Islam currently faces. Muhammad received his first revelation in 610 and died in 632, which means Christianity has a six-century head start on the third Abrahamic religion. What was Christianity struggling with 600 years ago?

1400 AD marked a halftime between two of Christianity’s most violent episodes. The Crusades consumed western Christianity for 250 years until they petered out around 1350. The Spanish Inquisition lay ahead (1478), as did Martin Luther’s Protestant revolt (1517). Christianity was roughly at the midpoint of 700 years of internal convulsions — purity purges — beginning with the East-West Schism (1054) and the Salem witch trials (1692).

ISIS rhetoric refers to Westerners and modernists as crusaders. They certainly resent and fear modernity’s encroachment on their lives and values. But it may also be understood as a term of twisted admiration, as they endure violent purges, following in the footsteps of their older sibling.

Age-Old Tensions

There’s another historical correlative that may be easier to accept, because it’s seated in our own lifetime. Demographers can tell us with unnerving accuracy when social unrest will likely occur in any society.

Any time a society sees a sudden surge in birthrates, trouble is likely 20 years later unless there’s an economic boom that produces something close to full employment. Violent upheaval most often originates with a very specific subset of a society’s population — unmarried, unemployed, young men.

Too many men with nothing to lose will spell trouble for any power structure. We saw it in America in the 1960s, when all those babies born after soldiers returned from World War II became disaffected teenagers. Hormonal rage will find an adversary as sure as a cat will create a scratching post — whether it’s an unpopular war, sexual repression, gender rights, or religious purity. It’s practically baked in the cake.

Mass Hysteria

Our own history tells us that education and self-awareness alone tamp down the violence, but that’ll take centuries. War and political pressure could hasten the process, but only if we put ourselves in the middle of it for decades. As the recent tragedies in Paris gut-wrenchingly demonstrated, we can’t afford to wait that long.

The only force that makes change happen quickly enough is commerce. Fortunately, we have a couple of dozen billionaires who could not only quell the violence in the Middle East, but make money doing it. Remember that the region’s struggle is essentially sectarian and its combatants are mostly young men with free-floating bloodlust.

Greece had its Olympians. Rome had its gladiators. We’ve got Sunday football.

Launch a Middle East division for the NFL, six teams battling every Sunday for regional and world dominance. It’s keeping our own underemployed young men happy. Why couldn’t it work there too? Soccer is wildly popular across that region, but it’s not violent enough for the vicarious thrill young men crave. The NFL’s marketing machine can repurpose all that anti-crusader rhetoric to sell merchandise and build a planetary brand.

Once Middle Eastern young men feel the adrenaline rush that comes from wearing the designated color to a stadium, or souvenir jerseys on game day, or emblazoned ball caps in solidarity with their heroes, we’ll be able to contain the violence onto the playing field and away from the rest of us.

“Death to America!” will slowly be replaced by “Beat the Packers!” or whoever their favorite team is playing that week. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s good enough to occupy a conversation while you refill your party glass.


Don Kahle ( blogs at

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Motion Machines Available — Almost Free!

November 20th, 2015 · No Comments

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Although you haven’t read about this in the business pages of your newspaper, there’s a sudden glut of motion machines on the world market. You’re probably familiar with the Roomba, an automated vacuum cleaner. These contraptions are similar, except they are capable of a vast array of other tasks. In fact, they also can be taught to clean carpets.

They have a long track record of paying for themselves in just a few years, but the return on investment now is much faster — in many cases, almost immediate.

The United States has pledged to import ten thousand units in the coming year. Two dozen governors recently announced they won’t welcome them. The governors fear they’ll lack the necessary resources to maintain them after they arrive.

Thankfully, Oregon Governor Kate Brown was not among them. She sees the value and welcomes the opportunity they are certain to bring. With infrastructure in place to increase production capacity, Oregon will benefit from importing these amazing motion machines.

War and internal strife often can disrupt market forces and distort the prices of even the most reliable goods. That’s what’s happening right now in Syria and Cuba and parts of north Africa.

I know it sounds too good to be true, but certain countries are currently giving away these motion machines. Right now, and for only a limited time, savvy nations are importing motion machines for nothing more than the cost of shipping.

The world has only recently begun recognizing that sustainable energy is a competitive advantage, but no system rivals the organic fuel cells built into these wonders. After years and years of small improvements, you can power one of these units with nothing more than sunlight, water, and some simple carbohydrates.

Corn or grain or whatever you have handy will power most units for up to 16 hours a day. They last for decades with much less maintenance than most other machines. In fact, onboard sensors often will catch a problem before it becomes too difficult to fix. And when it comes time to replace one, all the parts are biodegradable.

Imagine — a totally organic, self-sustaining motion machine with state-of-the-art wiring, producing decades of productivity with only minimal maintenance. There must be a catch, right? Well, there is. Units themselves are not for sale, and haven’t been in most of the world for the past 150 years. But that doesn’t mean they’re not available to savvy shoppers.

If you’ve ever driven a Volvo or a BMW, it won’t surprise you to learn that Sweden and Germany know an engineering marvel when they see one. They’ve taken orders for tens of thousands of these babies and they plan to take more.

In what can only be attributed to short-sightedness, skeptics worry that they often arrive with an operating language that isn’t the one that the rest of us are most familiar with, prompting some to insist they be reprogrammed first. This can of course lead to other complications, especially when the new sets don’t match the color of those already in use. Mismatched sets can sometimes clash, but more often the variances produce a rich array of new possibilities.

Indeed, the differences reveal a valuable feature. When unlike units are networked together, they recognize unique strengths among them, assigning tasks and sharing goals that require collective output. In most cases, units will learn from each other, automatically upgrading their operating systems.

Unfortunately for them (and for us), they’ve suffered for decades from poor brand management. People have become wary of them, concerned whether quality control has kept up with increased production rates. They often are referred to as “immigrants” or — even worse — “refugees,” as if their immediate circumstances could ever outweigh the long-term benefits they offer to nations willing to host them.

There will certainly be some that don’t perform as we hope, but when is that not the case? Returning them to where they were manufactured won’t necessarily be easy, because the ravages of war have made returns difficult and sometimes impossible. Each transaction must be considered “as is.”

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Overcloud Economy May Explain Political Campaign

November 20th, 2015 · 2 Comments

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We’re all familiar with the underground economy. Favors or services are exchanged without money or formal records, skirting taxes or other liabilities. There’s another hidden economy operating above us, where favors are swapped but tracks are not left. Just for symmetry’s sake, let’s call it the overcloud economy.

You wouldn’t believe how often the overcloud economy shapes seating charts at Washington’s elite events. A ticket to a presidential inauguration cannot be bought, but the best seats are being procured using this invisible economy. You want a front-row seat for a Supreme Court session or a private nighttime tour of the Capitol building? You need somebody there who owes you a favor.

This better than anything else may explain why Lane County Commissioner Faye Stewart has agreed to run for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Ron Wyden. Nobody expects Stewart to beat Oregon’s senior senator, but that may not be the goal.

The 2016 election could harness a wave of voter discontent that leaves no incumbent safe, but even Stewart himself doesn’t consider that scenario very likely. Wyden has made a name for himself by crossing the partisan aisle and crafting innovative solutions. His support is anchored in Portland, where Stewart is almost entirely unknown.

An outsized ego can sometimes lure a politician into a delusional campaign, but anyone who has ever spent five minutes with Stewart knows he doesn’t fit that profile. And anyone who’s ever spent five minutes with Wyden knows that he won’t go down without a fight. So what’s in it for Stewart? Nobody knows, but I can make some guesses.

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden is charged with recruiting Republicans across the country to run and raise money, so he may have called in a favor from Stewart.

We know Stewart cares about his community. He has seen first hand what the declining timber payments have wrought over the last decade. Walden may have promised some Republican-sponsored legislation that will help balance the county’s books in some more sustainable fashion than Democrats have been able to offer.

Let’s stop for a moment and remind ourselves of a new but increasingly self-evident truth. Elections — especially in presidential election years — have become a pursuit of dollars as much as votes. Dollars are not contained into their states or Congressional districts of origin. Money is fungible, but still limited.

Every dollar Wyden raises to keep his seat is one less dollar that can be spent on more competitive races. Remember how the Oregon Ducks often used De’Anthony Thomas as a decoy to frustrate opposing defenses? The best defender would cover him, while the Ducks attacked the other ten players on the other side of the field.

In the same way, Stewart can earn favors from the Republican party simply by forcing Wyden’s campaign to raise and spend money that could otherwise have been directed elsewhere.

If a Republican wins the White House, that brings with it hundreds of political appointments. These are virtual chits in the overcloud economy. Stewart wouldn’t enjoy being the ambassador to Morocco, but he might covet a position with the U.S. Forestry Dept. or the Bureau of Land Management, where he could help shape a new national timber policy.

Oregon roots don’t go deeper than Stewart’s, so you can bet any favors he’s earning will be cashed close to home. Whatever future political ambitions he may have will be made easier if he has statewide name recognition and essential Portland fundraising connections. Walden can make those important introductions.

Stewart and dozens of others are wondering how much longer U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio will continue to endure the nation’s longest business commute. When he retires, there will be a scramble in both parties for what will certainly be a competitive race.

Anyone who has run a statewide campaign will have some advantages when that moment comes. That will give Stewart more stature, even if he has to lose a race to get it.

You never can be sure how much anything is really worth in the overcloud economy, but I’ve heard the nighttime Capitol tour is really cool.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Haggen Crashes for Big Payday

November 17th, 2015 · No Comments

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Eight months ago on this page I wondered aloud whether an investment banking firm was really committed to selling groceries to you and me. When the Florida-based Comvest Group offered to buy 146 Albertsons and Safeway stores across five Western states, I worried that the business model for investment bankers would favor a quick flip.

My March column ended with this line: “Haggen could sell you a frozen pot pie tomorrow that won’t expire until after Comvest’s money has left town for better luck elsewhere.” There’s probably a loaf of Wonderbread that hasn’t lost all of its wonder in the little time it took.

Since then, Haggen has sued Albertsons and Albertsons has sued Haggen. Disputes revolve (and revolve and revolve) around inventory accounting, pricing software, distribution control, and competitive discounting. Haggen declared bankruptcy and asked courts for additional relief for its employees as underperforming stores were shuttered.

Haggen complained that it relied on data provided by Albertsons, causing them to inadvertently set their grocery prices higher than what their customers expected. These higher prices resulted in fewer customers than Albertsons had projected for many of the stores.

Do these sound like the complaints of grocers or accountants?

In late September, Haggen’s parent company announced it would “right-size” its grocery store holdings to 37 stores across the region, divesting itself of three-quarters of what it bought just months earlier.

This week, Haggen announced that it was auctioning off scores of its stores, including one in Thurston and one in south Eugene. The opening bid for the Thurston store was one dollar. The price so far being offered for the south Eugene store on Hilyard is less than an average single-family home in the area would fetch.

The current high bidder for each store is Albertsons.

For those of you scoring at home, the play went like this. Albertsons wanted to buy Safeway, but anti-trust regulators balked at the behemoth, unless the two chains divested hundreds of stores across the country as part of the deal.

Comvest saw an opportunity, bought control of a distressed Bellingham, Wash. grocer, then bid to buy 146 stores across the West. Practically overnight, Haggen grew from a family-owned business running a handful of stores to a group of investment bankers controlling over 150 stores. A grocery store became an investment instrument.

Regulators were appeased. The sale went through. Comvest paid Albertsons approximately $300 million for 146 stores, then made most or all of that money back by selling the real estate beneath some of those stores. Half of at least 39 lease-back deals were done with Spirit Realty Capital, netting Comvest $224 million, according to securities filings.

Flush with new cash, signs were swapped, floors shined, doors opened. Then came lawsuits, bankruptcy, and auctions. Sometime soon, many of those stores may go back to being Albertsons.

Anti-trust regulators must be shaking their heads, wondering how all of these machinations could possibly be profitable for efficiency-obsessed free market capitalists. As if that’s who these players are. They’re not.

Firms like Comvest are not trading in broccoli. They relied on software to tell them what they should charge, when they could have sent a check-out clerk to visit the competition.

They’re not even trading in money. Selling a store for a dollar can’t make a lot of sense, no matter how you add it up.

They’re trading in trades — “churn” is the jargon term. Chances are good that the Thurston store will change hands four times in less than a year — Safeway to Albertsons to Haggen to Albertsons.

Why would Albertsons bid on that store, when they have a store already at that same intersection? Their one dollar investment will keep another grocer from moving in across the street.

This is exactly the scenario that anti-trust regulators were charged with preventing, but they left the theater after Haggen entered the stage.

It’s difficult keeping track of complicated deals like this, when all we really want is to be charged a fair price for our broccoli.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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We’ve Got the Pieces, But Who Makes It Whole?

November 6th, 2015 · No Comments

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Lane County Board of Commissioners last month endorsed a Fern Ridge Community Policing District for the Veneta area. Commissioner Faye Stewart had this to say: “This isn’t a piecemeal thing, …”

But that’s exactly what it is. Sorry, I interrupted.

Stewart continued: “… it’s a complete package” to bolster law enforcement in the area. “This is a model that can be replicated throughout the county.”

In other words, if the residents in and around Veneta approve the special district levy, other pieces of Lane County will be able to follow their lead. It may be a complete package, but only for a piece of the county.

Politicians are craven creatures, God bless ‘em. They want our approval, measured in vote counts, over and over. We love them for that. They’re always trying to figure out exactly what we want, as if that’s hard to discern — but it’s not.

What we voters want is simple to understand. We want free stuff. We want stuff that benefits us, but that others have to pay for.

Yes, um, but who exactly is “other,” in this case? That’s easy — people who can’t vote. (To be more specific, politicians will naturally be inclined to burden people who can’t vote them out of office.)

California is only now rethinking their practice of having incarcerated felons fight their wildfires. This powerless population has risen lately to 40 percent of California’s fire-fighting labor. They can’t vote against the politicians who mandated it. Ballots are not delivered to prisons. De facto slave labor prevents taxes from rising to fight fires. Residents love it, politicians love it, felons don’t count, everyone (who matters) wins!

As is often the case, California’s excess becomes Oregon’s caution. Felons as slave labor? We would NEVER do so such a thing! (Unless such a thing is exactly what we used to do, until California got burned for doing it.)

Besides slaves and felons, who else can our politicians tap so that voters don’t have to pay for what they want?

Out-of-towners are obvious marks, but without a sales tax, how do we get their money? Simple. Transient room tax, or as some ironically put it, a hospitality tax: “Welcome! Please give us roughly 10 percent of what you’re spending on lodging, for no discernible benefit. Then go home to wherever you came from, and vote against people who had nothing to do with this. You’re welcome, and Bon Voyage.”

Everyone taxes out-of-town residents. It’s almost considered unsportsmanlike to brag about it. Everybody’s voters are occasionally tourists elsewhere, so shifting the cost to others only compensates for how others have shifted their costs onto you.

Burden those with no means of revenge, but who? Slaves are outlawed, felons have fallen out of favor, tourists only even the score. Where is the next free lunch?

Veneta residents and the Lane County Commissioners seem willing to shift the burden of burglary and crime onto their neighbors. To their credit, the residents would be taxing themselves and the plan does include some preventative policing in the schools.

The question for the commissioners is slightly different. Will it reduce crime across the county, or simply shunt it to the nearest neighbors who didn’t pony up for extra protection? Would one neighborhood frankly be telling hoodlums there are easier pickings not too far down the road, where sheriff response times may be double?

It’s an unpleasant question that must be asked. Will countywide risk be reduced or redistributed? Will the entire county benefit from Fern Ridge Community Policing District?

Of course it’s piecemeal — that’s the only meal voters seem willing to eat. We rely on our leaders to attend to the Big Picture, and then we punish them whenever they try.

Residents are more than willing to protect their piece. When the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) forces gather, nobody credibly asks, “In whose back yard instead?” But that’s the question to be answered.

We must fashion solutions that are both stable and flexible, locally felt but widely supported. We’re not there yet. Until then:

All for one, and one for some, (but none for all)!


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Frippery: Rhymes With Slippery

October 30th, 2015 · No Comments

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Fifth Friday Footnotes, Follow-ups and Far-Flung Fripperies:
• It’s always been true, but never more evident — the world would benefit not from more answers but better questions.
• Can you name a local grocery store with better public bathrooms than Woodfield Station’s Market of Choice?
• Choosing which tasks to complete is not what’s difficult. It’s the choosing against the others that forces us to confront our limits, the consequences of our choices and ultimately our mortality. “Later” allows us to pretend we’ll live forever.
• We’re all strong in mostly the same ways, but each of us is weak in our own unique way. Our frailties are more revealing than our successes.
• People are planning less or more poorly. We’ve all heard the same grocery store cell phone conversation: “Tell me again what you wanted me to pick up….”
• Republicans have so neatly merged politics with entertainment, it’s no wonder an entertainer has been leading its polls.
• Just because there’s nothing for you to do, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for you to do. Waiting for a response or monitoring a situation is not doing, but it’s also not nothing.
• The Comic News office did not have a public sign, but now I wish it had. It would have displayed its address in a digital clock format: “12:47 Willamette — We’re Right, Twice a Day.”
• It’s hard to answer “what next?” if you haven’t asked “what for?” (And “what if?” is usually less than no help.)
• Of all bigotries, chronological bigotry is the most invisible. We happily undo the past’s mistakes, never considering how many of our own will need undoing later.
• When in doubt, trying ordering whatever is first on the menu. Its position at the top of often a point of pride.
• How can I allow more than just my mind to be boggled?
• You know you’re middle-aged when all your friends — half older than you and half younger — envy how much you can remember.
• “Nonce” should already be a word, if only because you’d never have to be told its meaning — not once.
• Autocorrect fixes our spelling, but is no help with numbers.
• Dear airlines: the more you thank me for choosing you, the more I regret my choice.
• If our mayor and eight city councilors formed a softball team, would every practice and game be constrained by public meeting laws? So much for a Lane County Commissioners bowling team….
• You’re better off not knowing how often elevators pass you by because they’re headed in the wrong direction.
• It says something about you but I don’t what: if you know the FTA abbreviations for more than three airports.
• Rue less.
• When I set a mousetrap, am I hunting or gathering?
• Regret is worrying about something that already happened.
• Isn’t it odd that we describe popularity with catastrophe terminology? His work “blew up,” exploded,” “went viral.” He’s “the bomb.”
• When did we become so enamored with “pods”? Everything from coffee to laundry detergent is meted out in pre-measured pods, our work stations are laid out in pods, our groups are subdivided into pods. Suddenly surrounded by pods, we renew our hope for peas on earth.
• I’m sure there’s a good reason, but why aren’t newspapers flying drones to photograph closed football practices?
• I saw a Hooters restaurant with a take-out window. Explain.
• Whoever named Eugene’s northwest neighborhood “Trainsong” deserves credit for trying.
• Equal is not always fair and fair is seldom equal. We often endorse whatever is easiest to measure.
• We need a few lateralists mixed in with our literalists.
• Sometimes I don’t feel productive so much as quotientive.
• Whenever my home Internet connection goes down, I’m secretly surprised that my toilets still flush.
• When I’m among perfect strangers, I become unnerved mostly by their perfection.
• How do people with unique first names protect their 12-step group anonymity? (“I’m LeBron J. and I’m….”)
• Actions taken matter mostly because they reflect our intents.
• If Hillary Clinton can be given a likability pill, why didn’t the same potion work on Al Gore?
• As we age, we think less about succeeding and more about being succeeded.
• As physical touch becomes less common but not less important, each somatic connection carries more meaning.
• Be keen but kind.
Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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Flying People Belong Only and Always at Eugene Airport

October 23rd, 2015 · 3 Comments

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Eugene’s “Flight Patterns” art installation must be returned to the Eugene Airport as soon as its new home inside the airport can be determined and prepared. This should not be considered a matter for discussion or debate.


David Joyce designed this work for the airport in 1988 and that’s where it belongs. Once the commission check was cashed, the artwork became ours. It does not belong to the airport or the Joyce estate. It belongs to us.

Joyce died in 2003 and an art gallery now bears his name at Lane Community College, but all of that is beside the point. His widow has been consulted by airport authorities, but again, there’s nothing here to talk about except where and how to keep the artwork safe during airport construction and how soon can it be returned to its home.

All art is contextual, but some is more so. “Flight Patterns” can never belong anyplace but where Eugene’s people gather to fly, and that — so far — is only at the airport. Likewise, it would lose its meaning if it were in any other city’s airport. And if we don’t know why that is, then we don’t know ourselves. Don’t blame the art for that.

Betsy Wolfston and David Thompson’s 2007 “Marker of Origin” belongs beside the Eugene’s Train Depot. It wouldn’t make the same sort of sense anywhere else. James Ulrich built for the Eugene Public Library a chair, with a painting behind it and tile beneath it. Library patrons are taunted to sit or not, blurring the line between form and function. It works because of where it is.

Can anyone argue the Skinner Butte Cross wasn’t changed and diminished when it was moved to southwest Eugene? “Flight Patterns” belongs only and always in Eugene’s airport.

Joyce achieved something remarkable, producing a work both intimate and monumental. It tells a hundred stories that lead to a hundred more. Or it tells a single story that just keeps retelling itself.

Eugene is a place where regular people do amazing things, but without giving up their regularness. If Clark Kent had worked for Eugene’s Register-Guard instead of the Metropolis Daily Planet, he wouldn’t have needed a phone booth.

That busy corridor from Terminal A to the ticketing and baggage claim area has fit the work perfectly. The art joins the human procession after each plane has landed. (Reflect on that unanimity.) Frequent travelers cherish how the “flying people” guide their final steps home.

Inside that one message hides a thousand smaller ones. Each viewing reveals new quandaries. Is that a vacuum cleaner chasing a cloud? Why the trombone? Did everyone dress like that? What was a tape recorder?

The work’s presentation context has changed in only one important way. Airports in 1988 had no security perimeter. There was no TSA. The airport experience was less onerous then; flying was more enjoyable. No one was excluded where the work was first viewed. No ticket was required.

Loitering was not unwelcome, nor uncommon. Modern airport designs don’t allow people to stop and think. There are no ponder places, but “Flight Patterns” would be perfectly at home, if there were.

Joyce’s work is contextual not only in space but also in time. This presents a growing challenge. It won’t be very long before no one will have known the local citizens depicted in its seven panels. More than many works, “Flight Patterns” would benefit from some “liner notes” that viewers could refer to or not.

Artists hate, hate, hate to have their work explained. When somebody asked Robert Frost to explain one of his poems, he scolded, “You want me to say what I already said in words not as good?” Joyce probably would prefer his photos and depictions stand — or fly — on their own, without remedial help.

Well and good, except for this. People won’t often protect what they do not understand. Bayeux has its tapestry. Eugene has its “Flight Patterns.” Their stories are fixed in time, whether it’s 1066 or 1988. The people depicted are real, or were.

People flew only in airplanes back then, but they dreamt of more.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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W2W: Eugene’s Pretty Good Idea

October 16th, 2015 · No Comments

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Eugene’s “Willamette to Willamette” initiative revives a pretty good idea that just refuses to die. It could become a great idea, but not if its organizers have their way.

The concept first appeared late in Ruth Bascom’s tenure as mayor of Eugene. Her preferred phrase in the 1990s was “Return to the River” — she saw the opportunity to join our city’s central business district with its central river.

Mayor Jim Torrey followed, less keen on downtown. “Downtown’s problem,” so the thinking went, “is that there’s too much of it.” A preferred solution began to emerge: concentrate the city’s attention and resources along a few key corridors. Make them so-called “Great Streets” — filled with urbanity, beautiful to behold, inviting to pedestrians.

Recent developments have focused on revitalizing the downtown core, master planning EWEB’s riverfront property, and building a new city hall for Eugene.

Now comes Willamette to Willamette, which seeks again to join the human energy that now swirls around Willamette Street with the natural energy that never stopped swirling just a few blocks away — the Willamette River.

Willamette to Willamette is a revival of the Great Streets concept, an idea whose time has not yet come. A premature embrace risks reducing a great idea to a pretty good one.

Nobody wouldn’t like it if Eugene returned to its river, and a Great Street would be the best way to get there, but that street won’t be Eighth Avenue, for reasons that won’t stop being true.

A Great Street must give everyone a great experience. Picture al fresco dining, quirky little shops, and people spilling in and out of the buildings along the way. Walking the length of the street becomes a pleasure, shortening the imagined distance from one end to the other.

Imagined distance is a crucial factor. Most don’t believe me when I tell them the distance from 5th Street Public Market to Kesey Square is roughly the same as from an average parking spot to the center of the Valley River Mall.

The trick is this: If people are directed or entertained, they’ll walk farther and more. Paris and Washington, DC, were designed to be seductively walkable. But it won’t work here, at least not yet and not along Eighth Avenue.

A string of government centers — city, county and courts all have Eighth Avenue addresses — cannot make a Great Street. Unless your civic buildings are so monumental that people will walk to gawk, people won’t want to go there. They’d rather shop or eat or drink.

Eighth Avenue offers what no other downtown street can right now: safe passage across Highway 99. But that could change before too long, once the EWEB riverfront project gets back on track. Fifth could be made attractive enough to enthrall pedestrians, and Brian Obie’s expansive vision for developing county-owned land on Sixth Avenue could include a safe crossing, as well as a strategic midpoint.

Midpoints are important when adding a pedestrian attraction to an urban landscape because people have to get back to where they started. Without a streetcar or other transit options, the experiences provided along the way must carry a double burden. If people don’t enjoy their stroll in both directions, they’re less likely to make it a habit.

So what can be done?

• Wait for a bit, hoping that Obie and EWEB get their redevelopment projects moving.

• Add pubs and cafes to the front edge of government buildings, with sidewalk seating along Eighth Avenue. Even gift shops would be better than empty lobbies with metal detectors to greet curious passersby.

• Redesign Eighth Avenue to include a safe haven for food trucks and other mobile vendors. Springfield is ahead of Eugene on this one.

• Temper our expectations, admit that the factors are not all there to make Eighth Avenue a Great Street, but in Eugene, we’ll settle for a Pretty Good Street.

The city is seeking feedback from residents about their “W2W” concept. Their outreach has occurred at Saturday Market and two brew pubs on Eighth Avenue, not in or near any government offices. Noted.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at The next W2W public outreach event will take place at Saturday Market on Oct. 24. An online survey and additional information can be found at

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Boehner’s Protected Institution

October 9th, 2015 · No Comments

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When John Boehner startled Capitol Hill with his sudden resignation, he claimed his “first job” as speaker of the House was to “protect this institution that we all love.” He didn’t make clear which institution he had in mind. Former speaker, current lobbyist, and now disgraced wrestling coach Dennis Hastert would know.

Most took Boehner’s words to reference the House of Representatives itself, or the Congressional branch of our tripartite government structure. That was certainly how Boehner would have preferred his words be interpreted, but that interpretation doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.

Boehner is quitting more than his leadership position on October 30. He’s leaving the House of Representatives entirely, leaving his seat vacant until Ohio Gov. John Kasich calls a special election to fill it. How is the “institution” served by a 30-year veteran Congressman quitting? If Boehner has been asked that question, he hasn’t bothered to answer it.

There certainly are personal reasons why a self-deposed leader might not want to hang around for a little more than a year until his term expires, but they have nothing to do with the institution he (might have) claimed he was seeking to protect.

Most commentators readily interpolated his remarks to refer, if obliquely, to the Republican party. His comments that immediately followed addressed a “prolonged leadership turmoil” that would “do irreparable damage.” But exactly nobody thinks that Boehner’s departure will end that turmoil or lessen that damage.

If Boehner was considered too moderate by some in his party, that’s a label they’d like to be able to use when their presidential candidate finishes his or her 2016 campaign. Boehner knew that shutting the government down to protest Planned Parenthood was a recipe for electoral disaster. He knew his party would be blamed, and he wanted no part in it.

But his leaving Capitol Hill will do nothing to stave such extremist tactics. The Grand Old Party may fall on its principled sword for no good reason, but Boehner decided he’d rather get that news from C-Span, and not around the fireplaces and wood paneled rooms behind the Speaker’s seat.

If anything, Boehner served as a bulwark against his party’s most extreme members’ efforts to self-destruct. Yes, Boehner had become a target — but the purpose of the lightning rod is to attract what would otherwise destroy the house — or, in this case, the House.

Eric Cantor’s electoral surprise was a cautionary tale for anyone who has earned the stink-eye of the uber-conservatives. Many House members fear a primary challenge from their unguarded right flank, but none of that Tea Party umbrage has yet risen to the level of a recall. Boehner’s seat was safe until 2016, and so was his leadership position.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pledged full Democratic support to Boehner if his leadership was challenged. If Boehner could keep just 30 of his Republican colleagues’ support, the Democrats would supply the other 188 votes he would need to prevail. That support only further infuriated Boehner’s detractors — which may have been Pelosi’s intent all along.

But this brings us around to the institution Boehner’s resignation was really seeking to protect. It’s not the House itself, the leadership of that House, or the party he represents. Each of those is centuries old and worthy of protection. The institution his departure protects is only decades old.

The Hastert Rule has come to be understood as Congress’s “other filibuster.” The Speaker of the House schedules floor votes. The Hastert Rule denies a floor vote until a bill has majority support within his or her party — even if the majority of the members of the House would vote to pass it. Dennis Hastert explicitly adopted the “majority of the majority” rule after becoming Speaker of the House in 1999. He has since disavowed the rule and its name.

Call it what you like, but it has made it easier for House Speakers to keep their gavel, even as it’s prevented anything approaching bold bipartisanship in governance. It’s that sad legacy that Boehner’s resignation protects.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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